Efforts are underway by New Jersey lawmakers to override Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s recent veto of a bill to overhaul the Port Authority, an agency that is trying to turn the page on the scandal known as “Bridgegate.”
In the wake of the crisis — in which it was made public that Christie’s former staffers and Port Authority allies closed lanes and created massive traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, seemingly for political retribution — New York and New Jersey lawmakers unanimously passed identical bills that would have forced stricter ethical and financial standards on the Port Authority. The agency oversees operations of the bridge, in addition to trains and airports in the region.
Both Christie and Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, vetoed the bill on Saturday. In a joint statement, Christie and Cuomo said they’re in favor of reforms, including a new chief ethics officer position, suggested by a panel they appointed back in May. The two governors added they would ask all Port Authority board members to step down.
But critics said the vetoes were a slap in the face of state legislatures who passed the bill with support from both parties.
State Sen. Robert Gordon told msnbc that the New Jersey Senate would try to override the veto in mid-January, potentially on Jan. 13, when Christie is slated to deliver his annual State of the State address. Senate President Stephen Sweeney has also said he supported the move.
“The Port Authority for more than 90 years has operated in the shadows. Decisions are made with little public scrutiny,” said Gordon , pointing to recent toll increases. “The governors say in their veto message they have another set of reforms that have been proposed, but that is really a sham. I call their proposals decorative in that they are not going to bring substantive reforms anytime soon.”
Overriding the veto would require two-thirds support from the Senate, in addition the same amount of support in the Assembly. “If the Senate’s attempt is successful, we will try to override the veto as well,” said Democratic state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, another sponsor of the reform bill. Huttle said the veto allows the governors “to hold a [continued] grip on the Port Authority” and “thwarts the voices of the people.”
However, it’s not clear if Republicans would go against their governor and support an attempt to override Christie. The bill would also have to be overridden in New York — and New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told the Daily News that such a maneuver was “impractical.”
Kevin Roberts, a spokesperson for Christie, declined to comment. The governor — a potential 2016 presidential candidate — has denied any prior knowledge of the lane closure scheme that ensnared thousands of commuters for four days in September of 2013.
The legislation the governors vetoed contained a slew of reforms, including opening meetings to the public, mandating an annual audit, extending oversight to the legislative branches in both states, and protecting whistleblowers.